As summer became fall in 2017, Lou Williams circulated the news within his closest friends and family members.
His career was over. Or about to be, anyway.
“I’m going to call it quits,” he said.
Williams had shredded a knee ligament in 2013 with Atlanta, was told in 2014 by a coach in Toronto he’d never be the same and, following a trade to the Clippers in 2017, was on his fifth team in four seasons. Williams envisioned his 2017-18 season with the Clippers as “my own little secret farewell party.”
Oh, how opponents across the league wish he’d stuck to his plan.
The Clippers guard was named Monday the league’s top reserve for the second consecutive season and third time in his career, tying Jamal Crawford’s all-time record.
Williams not only failed to fade into retirement that first season in Los Angeles, he began the best statistical stretch of his career, a run that continued this past season. He credits his resurgence to playing for Clippers coach Doc Rivers and within an organization that made him feel at home.
“I came to L.A. and I was in an environment where I felt revitalized,” Williams said during the NBA’s awards show in Santa Monica. “I felt I had something to prove.”
Williams, 32, averaged 20 points in 26.6 minutes for the 48-win Clippers this season. On many nights his trademark jump shot, in which he dribbles and leans to his left, appears scouting report-proof.
Thoughts of retirement? Those have been shelved.
“I kind of went into this season wanting this one,” Williams said. “In years past, I just played and lived with whatever happened. I wanted this one. I felt like this one was going to be a legacy piece. If I was going to go out of the game and be considered a sixth man and have that be my M.O., I wanted to tie Jamal. I wanted to be at the top of Mount Rushmore with him. This year, it was more focused on going out there and getting this one.”
Williams earned 96 of a possible 100 first-place votes. Clippers center Montrezl Harrell finished third in the voting, earning two first-place votes. Williams thanked Harrell for his trophy. Running the pick-and-roll with a deadly efficiency, the pair averaged 36.9 points this season, the highest combined scoring average of any reserve duo in NBA history.
Rivers was the runner-up to Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer for coach of the year. Bucks general manager Jon Horst was named the top executive, with Clippers President Lawrence Frank finishing third in voting.
If Williams accepted his award with a coolness that comes with experience -- “Can never have too many of these, right?” he said -- Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo wiped away rivers of tears after winning most valuable player for the first time.
As a teenager, the 7-footer sold watches and other trinkets from a stand in the Athens streets, and played for a Greek club that competed in a lower division than the country’s most storied teams.
Six years after Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th overall by Milwaukee, his potential difficult to conceive, he averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, shot 64.1% on shots inside the three-point arc while leading the Bucks to an NBA-best 60 wins and their first appearance in the Eastern Conference finals in 18 years.
The 24-year-old is the first international MVP in 12 years and only the fifth all-time, joining Hakeem Olajuwon, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. He beat finalists James Harden of Houston, last season’s winner, and Paul George of Oklahoma City.
“My parents, the way they loved us, there were times we were poor, we didn’t have money but we never did not have love,” Antetokounmpo said. “Those are the memories I remember and that’s why I always want to be better. I try to be the right role model for my brothers and I always try to have that flame in me that makes me better. I hope I can keep that flame forever.”